William in Trouble

The facts

William was not a boy to do things in any ordinary way. William liked colour, romance, adventure. Sardines for breakfast or tea eaten with fish knives and forks and bread and butter and good manners were so dull as to be beneath contempt. Sardines cooked in the open over a glorious fire made a matter for the exercise of that imagination which was one of William’s particular gifts.
The Outlaws could be pioneers, gold-diggers, robber chieftains, anything. Yet William, never satisfied till he had attained perfection, thought that there must be yet another and more exciting rôle to play.

  • Number: 8.10
  • Published: 1927 (1926 in magazine form) – not to be confused with the 1937 story, 19.3, of the same name
  • Book: William in Trouble
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws try to save Ethel from forced marriage.


William’s mistake in this story is the same one he made in The Knight at Arms, 2.4, and in The Sunday-School Treat, 6.8, and in William Starts the Holidays, 6.12: mistaking the performance or recitation of fiction for real life.

On this occasion, he hears Ethel saying the words: “I don’t love him at all. I’m being forced to marry him against my will. I have no one to turn to for help. My heart fails me. He presses his suit every day. He is coming this afternoon and my parents will force me to accede to his proposals. Alas, what shall I do?”

Robert had met only yesterday the most beautiful girl he had ever seen in his life (Robert met the most beautiful girl he had ever seen in his life on an average once a week).

Obviously, it doesn’t occur to him that she is reading from a (by all appearances, rubbish) book to Mrs Brown (who has lost her glasses). He fervently believes that she is the victim of a fiendish plot, so the Outlaws scheme to intercept the man they suppose to be the fiendish suitor – in fact a perfectly harmless business colleague of Mr Brown’s – and convince him that Ethel has died (“of a failin’ heart”) so that he will abandon the idea of marriage and go home.

It all goes horribly wrong, of course, but in a sadly predictable way.

The facts

“For Christmas, Uncle Charles is givin’ me a silly baby penknife. It’s only got one blade, an’ I heard him tellin’ mother that I couldn’t do any harm with it. Fancy,” – his voice quivered with indignation – “fancy anyone givin’ you a penknife what you can’t do any harm with.”

  • Number: 8.9
  • Published: 1927 (1926 in magazine form)
  • Book: William in Trouble
  • Synopsis: William, Ginger and Douglas sing their way to better Christmas presents.


This hundredth William story is actually the prequel to the 85th story, William Plays Santa Claus, 7.4. In William Plays Santa Claus, Mr Solomon, Sunday School superintendant, was making his way to the Browns’ house to complain about William’s behaviour during his evening of Christmas waiting (nighttime carol-singing).

Now we find out what William did…

Aunt Jane seemed almost stimulated by the thought of the pack of wolves howling around her lonely hillside house.

He had discovered that his Uncle Charles was to present him with that most undesirable Christmas present of a harmless penknife. Ginger had been led to expect a copy of Kings and Queens of England (“Goin’ wastin’ their money on things like Kings an’ Queens of England, ’stead of giv’n it us to buy somethin’ sensible”), and Douglas a green tie.

William ingeniously manages to convert the civilised evening of carol-singing into a ruthlessly efficient programme of conmanship. By the end of it, all three relatives’ nerves are in tatters (blackmailed by a dozen boys’ tuneless ‘singing’ – all except Ginger’s deaf aunt who is convinced by William that her cottage is surrounded by wolves who can only be scared off by the sight of a green tie), but all three presents are destroyed at the hands of the Outlaws – and much more preferable cash gifts follow instead.

Geek note: during the discordant singing, it is recorded that “Ginger, who had not moved with the times, sang ‘Yes, We Have No Bananas’”. But can a boy who never ages really be blamed for not moving with the times?

The facts

A figure was walking jauntily along on the other side of the rope that separated the tea enclosure from the rest of the fête ground. It had no cap. Its hair stood up on end. A dirty collar (clean only an hour ago) and tie set up on end under one ear. Dark coloured rings, suggestive of toffee and chocolate, surrounded its mouth. Its knees were black; its bootstrings untied, its clothes covered with mud and bran. In one hand it held a stick of rock; in the other an ice-cream horn. It licked them alternately.
Suddenly it caught sight of the elegant party watching it in horror-stricken silence from the other side of the rope. A radiant smile overspread the grimy countenance. The figure was evidently quite unaware of the appearance it presented. “Hello!” it said cheerfully, “I’m having a jolly good time, are you?”

  • Number: 8.8
  • Published: 1927 (1926 in magazine form)
  • Book: William in Trouble
  • Synopsis: William tries to do Robert a good turn, so ends up impersonating a pianist.


William is keen to show his appreciation to Robert for the gift of five shillings. This should indeed have made Robert nervous; “There were those who said that they preferred William’s open enmity to William’s gratitude. William had a laudable habit of translating feelings into action and when William was openly out to avenge himself upon you the results were as a rule far less devastating than when he was out to help you.”

On this particular occasion, William has a multitude of ideas of how to show his appreciation to Robert, but the one he ultimately chooses is to help Robert obtain a trophy for running.

William’s familiar spirit of devilry came to his aid. He crashed both his hands upon the keys in a sudden ear-splitting discord. He ran his fingers up and down the keys. He crossed one hand over the other, he hurled himself wildly at the bass and then at the treble. His audience listened in amazed silence. He kept up a Bacchanalian riot of inharmonious sounds for nearly ten minutes, then he stopped and turned his sphinxlike expressionless face towards his audience.

His unconventional method, though, is to steal the trophy from the home of its owner, the son of the vicar of a neighbouring parish. (Although to be fair he probably misunderstood a comment made by Robert, who had come a close second in the race, to the effect that it was his trophy by rights.)

So, he gathers up his trusty band, and: “They walked through the wood and over the hill to West Mellings. ‘Walk,’ perhaps is not quite the right word, ‘Walk,’ suggests a decorous, unexciting mode of progression that did not apply to the Outlaws at all. They ran along the ditches, they balanced (or failed to balance) on the top of fences, they scouted each other as Red Indians through the woods, they played leapfrog in the lanes, they climbed trees and they held races and they deliberately walked through every stream they found – but at last, after several hours, and an expenditure of energy that would have taken them at walking pace there and back half-a-dozen times, they arrived at the village of West Mellings.”

He ends up being mistaken for a child progidy musician, and gives a piano recital so incompetent that all the ladies present pretend to be familiar with its ultra-contemporary style. Another instance of the village’s adults being exposed as sycophants, cf. The Native Protégé, 3.8.

And although he is eventually found out, it’s too late to stop the presses, and a review of his performance appears in a noted magazine – much to his delight.